NFL Draft 2016

WELCOME TO THE BIG SHOW: Willie Beavers

The team at Vikings Territory has been busy working to get to know each of our newest Vikings draft selections and this week we will give you a chance to learn everything we know about these players through our reintroduction of the “Welcome to the Big Show” series. Next up is Western Michigan offensive lineman Willie Beavers.

ATTRIBUTES

HEIGHT: 6′ 4″

WEIGHT: 324 pounds

ARM LENGTH: 33.5 inches

HANDS: 9.5 inches

NFL COMBINE RESULTS

40 YARD DASH: 5.28 seconds

BENCH PRESS: 20 repetitions

BROAD JUMP: 103 inches

3 CONE DRILL: 7.96 seconds

20 YARD SHUTTLE: 4.71 seconds

PERSONAL

Beavers grew up in Lathrup Village, Michigan. He has been a Lions fan most of his life, but as Lindsay Young of Vikings.com points out, he has put that fandom behind him.

Coming out of high school, he was ranked a three-star recruit by ESPN.com and Rivals.com. Beavers initially signed with Illinois before asking for his release because of over-recruiting of that freshman class. He then signed with Western Michigan.

For the last three summers, Beavers has worked out with former Lions defensive end (and current free agent) Jason Jones, who was drafted in the second round out of Eastern Michigan in 2008. Both Beavers and Jones graduated from Southfield Lathrup High School.

Beavers is the highest draft pick from Western Michigan since Louis Delmas in 2009.

COLLEGE PRODUCTION

Beavers redshirted his freshman season at Western Michigan, and made his collegiate debut the following year, on September 8, 2012 against Eastern Illinois. Beavers made the move to left tackle later in that season, and became a mainstay in the lineup for the rest of his career, starting 40 straight games.

As a junior, Beavers was named Second Team All-MAC, and was part of the best turnaround in college football that year, with the Broncos going from one win in 2013 to eight in 2014. As a senior, he was First-Team All-MAC, and helped Western Michigan to 204.6 yards rushing per game, second best total in the conference and 29th best in the country. The Broncos got their first bowl win that season, beating Middle Tennessee 45-31 in the Bahamas Bowl.

POSITIVES

  • Good athlete, especially for an offensive lineman. Loose and fluid movements.
  • Good size and length. Measurements line up well with NFL left tackles.
  • Very good foot quickness and agility.
  • Comfortable in space; a natural as a lead blocker or operating in a zone blocking scheme.
  • Good straight line-speed; an asset in the screen game.
  • Able to get to the second level.
  • Good build in the lower body.
  • Competitive and active on every snap.
  • Quick hands.
  • Has the athleticism and reactive quickness to recover when beaten on a pass rush.
  • Fires out quickly in the run game.
  • Has positional flexibility; can play guard or tackle.

NEGATIVES

  • Needs to learn greater patience; oftentimes overly eager and can result in wasted motion.
  • Pad level has been inconsistent.
  • Has below average strength; 20 bench press reps was near the bottom for offensive lineman at the Combine.
  • Arms on the short side.
  • Needs to improve hand placement and punch. Has a tendency to get grabby.
  • Can get beaten by players with superior technique.
  • Not known as a finisher. Content to slide with his man.
  • Gives up his chest too frequently to power rushers.

SCOUTING REPORTS

NFL.COM: “Beavers is very athletic with the feet to play left tackle, but has the talent and traits to play all over the offensive line with more technique work.”

CBS SPORTS: “He had a good outing against Michigan State and more than held his own against star defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Beavers just has to fine-tune his game and play with better technique.”

WALTER FOOTBALL: “This is how Beavers was summarized by a scout in one of our Scuttlebutt articles, ‘Lacks strength, doesn’t finish. Athletic with good size and gets some movement. Gets some movement, but projects to guard for us.'”

PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS: “The chances of molding [Beavers’ PFF grades] into an NFL-level player seems nearly impossible.” PFF names Beavers one of the most overrated prospects in the draft.

USA TODAY DRAFTWIRE: “I really liked Willie Beavers’ tape, not so much for the product he is now, but for what he could become with a little brushing up and some improved attention to detail.”

THE TAPE

NOTE: Please keep in mind that Vikings Territory does not crate these videos. Some, particularly highlight videos, may contain music and lyrics not appropriate for all ages or personalities. Click on video links and mute your speakers as you see fit.

Beavers vs. Ohio State (with foreign play-by-play for some reason):

Beavers’ Pro Day:

THE SELECTION

Beavers was selected by the Vikings in the fourth round, 121st overall. Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter announced the pick.

After the pick, Beavers immediately reacted on Twitter.

Rick Spielman spoke to the media about Beavers after the draft.

[quote_box_center]”With Beavers you throw on the Ohio State game and you throw on the Michigan State game, the kid played very well at left tackle,” Spielman said. “Then we went down there and watched him at the Senior Bowl. He played some tackle and they moved him inside to guard. I know Tony Sparano gave us some specifics that we need to look for at that position, and it’s size, it’s strength, and what he calls the ability to dent people when you hit them. This kid has the size, strength and ability to dent people because you’ve seen him do it when he’s playing against Big Ten competition. Technically he’s not all there yet, but it is those type of guys that have his traits that are the guys that our coaches really want to work with.”[/quote_box_center]

The initial analysis of the pick was all over the board:

CBS SPORTS: “Three-year starting LT at Western Michigan that may transition to guard based on struggles in space. Would fill G need for Vikings.”

WALTER FOOTBALL: “This pick makes sense all around. Willie Beavers was projected as a fourth-round prospect. The Vikings had to add another tackle in the wake of speculation that they’d be releasing one of their tackles sometime in the near future.”

NFL.COM: “This is the 2nd year in a row the Vikings have taken a developmental OT on early Day 3 (Clemmings, ’15). Beavers started 40 straight games at LT and has all the raw tools but he comes with a handful of technical deficiencies. He’s at least a year away from competing for a starting bookend spot on their OL.”

VT readers weren’t crazy about the pick. The majority gave it a “B” grade (37.07%), with “C” being the next highest (29.76%). Nearly the same number of people gave it an “A” as did an “F.”

THE VIKINGS FIT

Most analysts viewed this as a developmental pick, noting Beavers needs a lot of technique work and is at least a year away from starting. Pro Football Focus levied the harshest criticism (there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground with them). But the reasoning behind selecting Willie Beavers in the fourth round is pretty clear: the Vikings like his size and athleticism as an offensive lineman, and are banking on their coaching staff—namely, Tony Sparano— fixing the technique issues and eventually developing him into a starter.

Wether or not they can do that is a shaky proposition. The current regime has a good track record developing defensive talent (mostly in the front seven)—Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, even Anthony Barr, who was still raw as a defensive player when he entered the draft, all come to mind. But the team has had much less success developing offensive lineman. A cursory glance at the Vikings’ draft history reveals a litany of players drafted in mid or late rounds who either hardly contributed or never even saw the field; Demarcus Love, Jeff Baca, David Yankey, Tyrus Thompson, et al. Some of these players were drafted before Zimmer arrived in town, but the personnel department has remained largely the same. And the lone bright spot in the last five years—Brandon Fusco, drafted in the sixth round—is overshadowed by the mediocrity of Matt Kalil, a top-five pick and player considered to be borderline can’t-miss when he was selected.

The team simply hasn’t done a good job drafting or developing offensive lineman at in recent years, so the idea that the Vikings will develop Beavers, a player who enters the league not yet ready to contribute, is questionable. But Mike Zimmer’s recent changes to the coaching staff indicate this is an area he is committed to fixing, and the addition of Sparano should give the position group a much needed shot in the arm. If Tony Sparano, a former head coach and a man greatly respected in NFL circles, can’t coach these offensive lineman onto the field, then it’s clear the problem is purely a personnel one. For all of Rick Spielman’s accolades in the way he maneuvers the draft—and most are deserved—this is one area that has been a clear weakness so far.

The good news for Beavers is he’ll have every opportunity to crack the Vikings’ offensive line rotation. Mike Zimmer said immediately after the draft the team expects to use him at guard, and that is a position that desperately needs an infusion of young talent. Even after the signing of Alex Boone, the right guard situation is still up in the air, and beyond whomever is named the starter, the 2015 season was evidence enough that a team can’t have enough depth on the offensive line. Beavers should be in contention for a backup spot sometime in his rookie season, though the Vikings surely hope he won’t need to be on the field yet. Beyond that, some have assumed he will eventually be groomed as a long-term replacement at tackle; that may or may not happen, and a lot of it will depend on what he shows in the early developmental stages. For now, the best bet is that Beavers spends 2016 as a developmental year, and will have a shot to start at guard in 2017 and beyond.

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Sam Neumann

Sam Neumann is a freelance writer and lifelong Vikings apologist. He has seen his share of Vikings-related heartbreak, but believes we are united by the hope that one day that norse ship will come in. Sam is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and has had it with Broncos fans. You can follow him on twitter @NeumSamN.

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5 Comments

  1. Feel like Davidson was a significant part of the issue with our line in recent years – at least as much as health concerns. Kalil’s precipitous decent is particularly strange. Was it nagging injuries, or was Davidson asking him to do things that brought Kalil away from what had worked so well in the past for him? Is Kalil a bit like Patterson, in that he’s only good if you specifically scheme for him to be good? I feel like Kalil’s performance is a much more complex story than most of the internet wants to admit – it’s easier to just call him terrible.

    Kind of the same deal with Beavers and Clemmings. These are kids who need to master technique in order to be successful. It should be noted that on the defensive side, Barr and Hunter only need minor mistakes or missteps in order for their athleticism alone allows them to make a play. Yes, their technique has really improved, but I think it’s easier for an athlete on defensive to make plays than it is for an OL athlete to be successful because the criteria for success is different: defensive guys simply need to capitalize once or twice on a mistake per game (and how many mistakes are made during a game?). OL guys, on the other hand, can play perfectly for 58 plays yet make a small mistake on 2 plays and that’s the difference in the game.

    Lastly, I think health is having a huge a recency bias effect on people’s perceptions of our line. As recently as 12 months ago the Vikings’ line was considered a potential strength of the team. Kalil appeared to be getting over bottoming out (modest praise at best), Fusco appeared to be a clear upgrade over Johnson, Sully is Sully, RG was probably going to be Harris or Berger (who both were expected to be average), and then Loadholt has been a good RT. Then Sully and Loadholt go down for the year, and it appears as tho Fusco was not healthy either (a naturally strong guy does not suddenly get tossed around repeatedly unless a pec injury is not fully recovered). Huge impacts on the OL.

    Still, tho, glad Zimmer prioritized it, and I’m glad that both Zimmer and Spielman have followed through on the competition aspect of it. Let’s let the best man win. Will be refreshing.

    1. Let me ride to Jeff Davidson’s defense yet again:

      – He’s been credited in the past with the successful development of mid-rounders Sullivan and Fusco, and Loadholt also thrived under his tutelage. Sure, other mid-round picks did not develop, but then not too many mid-round picks do, and none of the ones mentioned above has established themselves in the NFL, at least not yet.

      – Over the last two years, injuries took their toll at the OL’s strongest positions, center, right guard and right tackle, but Berger and Harris both played well in relief, and enjoyed career years last year. And T.J. Clemmings survived being thrown to the wolves, at least as a run blocker. Davidson deserves at least some of the credit here, too.

      There are two simple facts to remember about the Vikings offensive line over the last five or so years:

      1. It has been and still is better at run-blocking than pass-blocking, as a unit and individually, including its best players, Sullivan, Fusco, Berger, Harris and Loadholt. Of course, given the presence of Adrian Peterson, it’s not a surprise that the OL was built to prioritize run-blocking and has only been good at pass-blocking even at their healthiest best.

      2. The singular downfall of this OL has been its left side. Charlie Johnson needed to be replaced as long ago as 2013 but LG is still a question mark (yes, still, given Boone’s poor play there last season) and Matt Kalil appears to be a bust, injuries or no injuries.

      Now, I like the youngsters we’ve drafted, signed or traded for the last two years, from Clemmings and Shepherd to Easton and Kerin, and Beavers does give us another large, athletic option at guard or tackle, so I don’t hate the pick (and I really wish PFF would go back to 2014 before dismissing him out of hand). But Speilman still went out and got a natural RG to start at LG and didn’t do anything at LT, unless Zimmer and Sparano expect Clemmings to challenge Kalil this year, which I think is damned unlikely. So, even if Boone works out (I’m cautiously optimistic) and C, RG and RT are all solid (pretty confident, actually), LT is still more than likely to stink, unless Sparano can work his magic at reviving Kalil’s career (color me cautiously hopeful, at best).

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I thought Zimmer threw Davidson under the bus, saying, in not so many words, that he was a failure, period, never mind his past success with the team (he and Mike Priefer were retained from the previous coaching staff for a reason, after all). Even if it was time to move on, if only because of the Davidson’s failure to turn Kalil around, Zimmer could have handled it with more class, in my opinion.

  2. Vikings should have drafted Joe Dahl, a much more advanced player who went to Detroit in the 5th.

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